Do You Have Any Plans?

Last week I had a very nice e-mail from a reader in Texas. She started by telling

Transformation Is Possible

me she’d read all the books in the “Wolf Series” many times. Then she politely asked if I had any plans to bring out the books as audio books.

Well, I immediately sympathized with her request. I’m a serious recorded books junkie. I recently bought an MP3 player and dock to feed my habit, since my library is getting more of their new selections in this format and cassette tapes are becoming as impossible to find as a manatee in Elephant Butte Lake.

However, I had to give the lady from Texas the answer I must give whenever readers write to ask if I “have any plans” to have their favorite of my stories made into an audio book, television show, movie, or graphic novel. It’s not up to me. It’s up to the company that produces these alternative story forms.

Here’s how such projects usually develop. First, a company hears that a particular story has a following. There are many ways this can happen. The book can hit a major bestseller list or win an award.

The author’s “canon” – rather than any one specific book – can become established enough so that it is perceived that there is a perpetual audience for that author’s work. When I go into my library, I can be certain I’ll see works by Agatha Christie or P.D. James in several different formats. They’ve become “safe bets.”

Or the author can be lucky enough that one project does really well, creating the belief that there is a fresh audience for anything else with that author’s name on it.

Finally, the author’s readership lets those who produce these alternate story formats know there would be an audience for an adapted version. Especially in these days of social media and easy access to a company by electronic communications, word of mouth is more powerful than ever.

Only after there is a perception that listeners or viewers or graphic novel readers would purchase the adapted version in question is the author (or author’s agent) approached. Money is discussed and contracts are readied. From that point on, the author may be very deliberately kept completely out of the picture. This explains why so many movies or television series bear the most slender of resemblances to their source material.

Even if the author has some level of involvement, he or she rarely works on the actual project. Usually, an author’s level of involvement is more along the lines of providing some guidance. For a recorded book, this might be clarifying how a character’s voice should sound if this is not clear from the text.

I can hear a question. “But, Jane, I can see why you wouldn’t be able to make your own movie or television series. Why couldn’t you make your own recorded book? I’ve heard you read, and you’re great.”

(Really, people tell me this last. I’m not just being arrogant.)

Thank you. I do think I do a pretty good job when giving a public reading, especially when the work is a self-contained piece, like a short story. I can keep track of how various characters sound for about an hour, but I can’t swear I’d manage if the production stretched to two hours.

Moreover, I don’t have a recording studio or the distribution network. A hot topic right now is how writers can produce their own e-books. I’ve been dipping my toe into those waters. Let me tell you, if you’re not already set up for producing e-books or really like messing around with computers, making an e-book is a lot more complicated than it may seem. Even if you are set up for the process, doing a good job takes time – time I’d rather spend on writing new fiction. Producing an audio book would be much more complicated than producing an e-book.

Honestly, with a very few exceptions, I don’t particularly think authors are necessarily the best readers for their own works. The best author-read pieces I’ve encountered have been autobiographical. Tony Hillerman’s Seldom Disappointed is a great example of this. He isn’t the best reader ever but, hearing him talk about himself and his life, his strong Western accent reminding you with every word where he came from, is marvelous.

In the early days of audio books, it was sufficient for the voice actor to simply read a novel aloud – much as I do at readings or a teacher might do to a class. These days, audio books are performed, not merely read. Sometimes special effects are included, making the final result closer to the radio dramas of old rather than merely texts read aloud.

I’m more than happy to read aloud at a book-signing or convention, but I don’t think I’m up to producing my own recorded book, any more than I could play Firekeeper on the big screen.

So, what can you do if you’d really like to see an author’s works as audio books, movies, television series, or graphic novels? Tell your favorite companies that do whichever format about their work. Tell them why Through Wolf’s Eyes, The Buried Pyramid, or Child of a Rainless Year would be worth their time. Get your friends to tell them, too. They’ll listen. That’s what’s really funny about the current climate. They’ll listen to you – but they wouldn’t listen to me!

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14 Responses to “Do You Have Any Plans?”

  1. Emily Says:

    I’ve never listened to an audio book. I did love to hear certain teachers read works in elementary and middle school so I might enjoy audiobooks. I might have to try it though now. I really would like to hear some of Ms. Lindskold’s stories told that way.

  2. Paul Dellinger Says:

    I’ve heard you read, and you could do a good job with an audiobook. It is true that some readers are better than others on the audiobooks that are out there. I used to feel like it was somehow cheating to listen to a book rather than reading it. Then, when I had some extended work-related driving to do for a number of years, I changed my mind. They are much better to listen to than talk radio.

  3. heteromeles Says:

    Hi Jane, I hope the ash from Los Alamos is passing you by. Looks like it’s going to be a long hot summer.

    An audio book would be nice, but I really must take exception to your characterization of eBooks. Including the cover, it took me about four days to format a book for Smashwords. The cover illustration was 80% of the time, because I was compositing it on Photoshop and I hadn’t used photoshop in a while. I put the document together in Word 2007.

    Now, one can’t get a custom chapter header this way, nor can one get a nice, airbrushed, custom cover. Still, those tasks can be hired out, and they don’t show up in eBooks regardless, unless one is reading a pdf.

    In my experience, uploading a document to an eBook converter is faster than printing out the manuscript for a publisher. Perhaps I have a slow printer?

    • janelindskold Says:

      So far the Los Alamos fire is not hitting my area, but given that this makes four or five wildfires in my region (Wallow, Santa Fe, Los Alamos, and a couple you wouldn’t have heard about), I’m concerned.

      We must have different printers! I can print a novel in less than an hour.

      I was not characterizing e-books, by the by, just my perception of the process.

    • Alan Robson Says:

      In my experience, converting the source into an e-book is very easy – it only takes minutes. Unfortunately getting the source into a state where it will convert properly can take weeks. It is all too easy to produce an e-book that looks cheap and nasty and it is correspondingly difficult to produce one that looks good. Design and layout skills are very important here (I’m crap at both).

      And once the e-book exists, it needs very careful proofing as well. The conversion process can often mess up the “look and feel”.

      There’s a common misconception that the computer does all the work. Unfortunately that’s not true. It is still an eyeball and finger intensive process if you want to get it right. The computer just makes it easy for people who don’t understand the aesthetics of page layout to produce a bad job. (Hey — I’ve got 200 fonts to play with. Let’s use all of them!)

      In other words, it takes the same skills to produce a good e-book as it takes to produce a good printed book. And there are very good reasons why print publishers pay very good salries to the skillful people who do those jobs.


      -Alan

      • heteromeles Says:

        I agree that formatting an eBook takes a bit of time and a lot of proofing. There’s an important issue though: A lot of the work goes into that first book. After that, you have a template, and it’s much easier to do it the second time, unless you are planning a drastically different format.

        Additionally, a manuscript sent off to a publisher requires every bit as much proofing. To clarify, it takes 3-4 hours to print out a manuscript, and 1-2 hours to upload the book once it’s ready. Prep time is roughly the same, after the writing is done.

        Personally, if a publisher wants to tell me that my manuscript is worth $5,000 (avg advance to newbies), but the layout artist gets $2,000, I’m going to have trouble keeping a straight face. I spent X thousand hours getting the words out, and unless layout is going to take 500-1000 hours, why should they get so much money?

        Ultimately, it’s the story that sells and that the reader remembers. It should be valued.

      • janelindskold Says:

        Alan —

        Absolutely what I was talking about.

        People keep saying to me “Oh, I’d love to see CHANGER as an e-book.” And I keep thinking, so would I, but where am I going to find the time to review an over 800+ page manuscript?

        I have a good friend who is completely additcted to her Kindle, but she says she’s started avoiding ebooks that show less care in format and layout.

        It’s all very mixed up.

        Heteromeles has some very good points, but my situation is somewhat different in that the electronic manuscripts I have are in older formats.

  4. Tori Says:

    I would love to hear some audiobooks of yours! I think you would be a fantastic reader for them, but even if they picked a voice actor I would be okay with that. Just getting your books in the audio format would be enough! I have friends that won’t necessarily pick up an unknown author’s book, but definitely will try out an audiobook. I’ll let Tor(?) know, since apparently publishers need a lot of nudging.

  5. Paul Says:

    Actually, Amazon at least has a bunch of Jane’s books in its e-book format, Kindle: the Firekeeper novels, “Nine Gates,” “Child of a Rainless Year,” “Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls,” “The Buried Pyramid,” etc. I wonder why all of them are not available on Kindle. Not that it matters to me, I still prefer the printed versions.

  6. janelindskold Says:

    All of the books that Paul mentioned are from Tor — later works, produced after e-books were becoming an option. When my earlier books came out, e-books didn’t exist in any practical form.

    Tori — the place to go would be directly to an audio book publisher like Recorded Books Incorporated or Blackstone Audio. Some book publishers are developing Audio Book divisions, but not all have them.

    It’s all very complicated…

  7. Nicholas Wells Says:

    *Warning! Vent in progress!*

    Do me a favor. Should a movie (or TV) studio ever approach you about adapting your books, fight tooth and nail to at least oversee the production of it. Hollywood is getting desperate for ideas, and they’re not doing so well with books lately. There are exceptions, I know. But after the second and third Narnia movies (I found the first acceptable), not to mention others over the years, I have become weary of books made into movies. There’s a reason “A Ring of Endless Light” (by Madeline L’Engle) never hit the screen until the writer died. There was nothing of the book left, and what they wrote in its place was a horrible movie.

    I’d love to see Firekeeper or Brenda on the screen. But only if it’s the FIrekeeper/Brenda I’ve come to know and love.

    *Vent over*

    P.S. An audio book would also be cool, though I’m with you on reading my own work to make one. One character has a specific sound to his voice, and try as I might, I only off and on am able to get it right. Plus all the rest sound the same when I try to read them. :)

    • janelindskold Says:

      Nicholas —

      I will certainly keep your request in mind. Unhappily, the author doesn’t always have the option. Even when the author does, this doesn’t mean the author can control the other side.

      A few years ago, my agent negotiated “right of refusal” for me on depictions of my characters in a proposed graphics novel project. For a wide variety of reasons, the project ended up being handled by people who finally told me they had no intention of reading the books they were adapting…

      How’s that for discouraging?

  8. Barbara Joan Says:

    I’m addicted to books on tape. it started many years ago when I commuted with my youngest daughter and we could enjoy sharing a story when our musical tastes varied.

    I also agree that depending on the book the “actor/reader” is important. One of my favorite books on tape, “The White Deer” is actually better in the audio rather than the print version.

  9. OtherJane Says:

    Excellent post and discussion! I’ve read books on my Kindle that were supposed to be professionally done that were horribly layed out and obviously not even lightly proofed. I agree with what Alan and heteromeles said that the actual conversion is a short process – and once you have a template and are aware of the problems, the next one would go more smoothly. That would be a lot of work…I can’t even imagine the effort that would go into producing your own audio books.

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